The Benefits of Student Struggle

They call it the "productive struggle", which Renaissance EdWords defines as "developing strong habits of mind".  Teachers are constantly preforming herculean balancing acts, providing differentiation and scaffolding while also keeping students challenged and engaged.  

Ask any educator anywhere, and they will reply. "Yes, of course I want my students to develop strong habits of mind!"  Yet many issues can get in the way of us ALLOWING students the space needed to struggle. A packed schedule, meeting pacing guidelines, and high academic expectations AND standards can all make us just rush.  In this post, I will lay out some of the benefits of allowing students to struggle.

Let students learn perseverance through productive struggle. Classroom management falls into place when using these tips.

The Benefits of Allowing Students to Struggle in the Classroom

1.  "Helicopter Teachering" can lead to boredom and apathy in the classroom.

When students are overly supported during instruction, everything is handed to them on a silver platter.  That leads to two different problems.  The first is that they then have to rely on only their memory to recall the lesson.  They have no other context for the learning, yet for many, relying on memory only is not the greatest academic strength.  The second problem is that there is no friction, challenge, or sing to the learning atmosphere.  Students can't stay engaged when the material is, in essence, too easy because they don't really have to comprehend it.

2.  "Practicing failure" can lead to resilient and persistent students.

Often in our society these days, failures are public and devastating.  There is such a things as overprotecting students from failure.  But, we are also taking from them the dignity of failure.  Failure is a fact of life as we as adults know.  Students need to have the opportunity to practice failure and learn from it in a safe space.  They will not only learn from these experiences but will also view failure as a natural part of life, rather than a tragedy.

3.  Perseverance working through a problem leads to problem solvers.

Giving students the time and space they need to struggle through a problem boosts creative problem solving.  Teachers are not shackling students with narrow parameters through which students learn the "right way" to problem solve.  Instead, students can unleash their own creativity, think outside of the box, and rely on their individual strengths to accomplish the task at hand.  This can also lead to richer interconnections between concepts and even subjects.

Let students learn perseverance through productive struggle. Classroom management falls into place when using these tips.

4.  That "a-ha moment" is all theirs.

Referring back to number 3, this experience gives students an ownership of their learning.  They can revel in the sense of accomplishment and boost in self-confidence that we all feel after a job well done.  Students are aware of their process, and are aware when they are being spoon-fed.  The repeated experience of productive struggle is going to produce the confident, capable problem-solvers our society is desperately going to need in future years.

5.  I saved the best for last...

Perhaps the most important benefit of the productive struggle is the down-deep comprehension it allows students to develop.  We want students who really grasp and grapple with important academic concepts.  Having the space to get there on their own gives students a much richer learning experience.  Having worked through many stages of the learning process on their own or with a peer will give students a real memory to associate with the concept learned.  They will have the entire process, plus knowledge, to call on should it be needed in the future.

Allowing students time and space to struggle is important to make part of your classroom culture.  It will take intention and practice, but will be so rewarding in the long run!